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Review: The Damned bare it all in a stellar Portland performance



According to The Damned’s guitarist and founding member Captain Sensible, the last time the band played in town — a July 29, 2003 performance at the Crystal Ballroom — he ended the set by mooning the audience and walking offstage with his pants down. Some things just never change.

After ending the show with a blistering version of “Antipope” that featured Sensible playing a guitar solo behind his head, he reminded the crowd about his former pantsless antics in Portland. He then proceeded to drop his black and red plaid trousers and shake his backside at the crowd.

“I’ve still got it!” he screamed before walking away from a Portland stage with his pants hugging his thighs yet again. He then tripped on a power cord and nearly fell face-first off the stage. Luckily, he stayed on his feet and avoided joining singer Dave Vanian, who dislocated his left shoulder onstage in Sacramento the other night, on the injured list.

Today, The Damned are a legendary band that has never stopped evolving. They were the first UK punk band to release a single, 1976’s “New Rose”; the first to release an album, 1977’s “Damned Damned Damned” and were the first to cross the Atlantic and perform in the US, leaving a lasting impact on the Los Angeles punk scene, especially. Then, after multiple lineup changes, the Vanian-led group were a major influence on goth rock. Today, they’re among the last of the original punks still performing, and Sensible is absolutely right — they’ve still got it.

On Friday, April 14 The Damned performed to a sold-out audience at the McMenamins Crystal Ballroom in celebration of the band’s — and punk rock’s — 40th anniversary.

  • Monty Oxymoron plays the piano intro to "Melody Lee" before the rest of the band joins him onstage. The Damned played in Portland for the first time since 2003 on their 40th anniversary tour at the Crystal Ballroom on Friday night. (Craig Wright/Emerald)

The Damned are entering their fifth decade as a band. That’s a feat few would have predicted in 1977. Although the night was about celebrating punk, Sensible, Vanian, Monty Oxymoron (keyboards), Pinch (drums) and Stu West (bass) visited all of the band’s distinct musical eras.

“We’ve been around for awhile now,” Sensible said before succinctly summarizing the public perception of punk and The Damned: “Not everyone’s cup of tea.”

The majority of the set’s material came from The Damned’s 1979 album “Machine Gun Etiquette,” a punk record that proved the genre could be more than a simplistic three chord rush. The rest of the set drew from the band’s various sounding periods, including highlights “Neat Neat Neat” and “New Rose” from “Damned Damned Damned,” “Street Of Dreams” from 1985’s “Phantasmagoria” and “Ignite” from 1982’s “Strawberries.” 

At 60 years old, Vanian’s voice is in pristine shape. He led the crowd in sing along chants without losing any intensity in his voice the whole night. Vanian’s left arm was tucked away in a black sling that matched his vampiric black suit and pants, but he really only needed one arm to win over the crowd. A pair of purple-tinted sunglasses and a perfectly manicured beard rounded out his outfit.

Vanian and Sensible are perfect stage foils, with Sensible being the light to Vanian’s darkness. Sensible is the absurdist entertainer who can draw all eyes in a venue in a matter of seconds with a ridiculous joke or guitar maneuver. Vanian’s stage presence is more subdued. He rarely calls attention to himself, but once he catches your eye, it’s hard to watch anyone else. 

Sensible joked about the difference between a Damned show and a concert by former UK rivals The Sex pistols: “Their set would have been 25 minutes,“ Sensible said. He then went on about how they were no different from today’s boy bands, calling The Sex Pistols Malcolm McLaren’s personal One Direction. “I should stop before I dig myself into a bigger hole,” he said.

Few people would have predicted that original wave punk rockers would still be touring 40 years after punk started. Many of the greats have passed on, but seeing The Damned feels like a time capsule into the first wave of punk. It’s tough to leave a concert where the members are 60 years old or more and not think, “What would it have been like to see them in their prime?” But The Damned left little to the imagination. They’re firing on all cylinders, and, while Sensible may never fully mature, he’s still a young punk at heart — he just has a more logical sense of destruction now. 

“This is a lovely place,” Sensible said about the Crystal Ballroom before playing “Smash It Up.” “We wouldn’t trash it because we can’t afford it.” 

Follow Craig on Twitter: @wgwcraig

Setlist:

  1. Melody Lee
  2. Generals
  3. Disco Man
  4. I Just Can’t Be Happy Today
  5. Alone Again Or
  6. Love Song
  7. Machine Gun Etiquette
  8. Street Of Dreams
  9. Eloise
  10. Ignite
  11. Stranger On The Town
  12. Plan 9, Channel 7
  13. Wait For The Blackout
  14. History Of The World (Part 1)
  15. New Rose
  16. Neat Neat Neat
  17. Jet Boy, Jet Girl
  18. Noise Noise Noise
  19. Smash It Up Pts. I and II
  20. Nasty
  21. Antipope

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Craig Wright

Craig Wright

Craig is the senior arts and culture editor for the Emerald. He is from West Linn, Oregon, and is a senior majoring in journalism at the UO. He has made Nick Frost laugh and has been deemed to be "f---ed up in the head" by legendary thrash-metal band Slayer.